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"I was treated as an equal, with respect and understanding."

The 3rd European Vocational Skills Week takes place from the 5th to 9th November 2018. As National Coordinator for the European Agenda for Adult Learning (EAAL), AONTAS is profiling VET Week Ambassadors – by sharing FET learner stories throughout the week. Donna, a member of the Travelling community and an early school leaver, shares her story of returning to education through the Youthreach programme. Following her positive experience she has since gone on to complete a Level 7 degree programme in Maynooth University and has become a strong advocate for the value of education and how it can improve your life.

Donna’s Story

I left school at the age of 13, I never felt comfortable. I knew I was a Traveller, but I didn’t understand the impact of being a Traveller on my identity and mixing with settled people. We also live in a very upper class area, this meant there was also a social class divide, we had very different life experiences and I felt distant from the other children. 

It was a better learning environment for me

At age 15 I went back to Youthreach and it was a better learning environment for me. I was treated as an equal, with respect and understanding. They didn’t speak to me or treat me like a child and that made a huge difference.

I’ve taught literacy classes to older women from the Traveller community

Since then I’ve done various courses including a Community Employment scheme where I completed a Level 6 Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) Train the Trainer course. I’ve worked in administration, and I’ve taught literacy classes to older women from the Traveller community. I’ve also studied a Level 6 in Family Support, and a Level 7 in Community Development and Leadership in Maynooth University.

 

They’re meeting a real person, breaking down barriers, and changing their perspectives

Due to the success of the course and building connections in Maynooth University, I’ve been invited into the college to speak to Social Work and Education students. They usually have very little or no experience of Travellers and meeting me and hearing about my experience is eye opening for them. They’re meeting a real person, breaking down barriers, and changing their perspectives of the community that were formed by negative images portrayed in the media. I hope this will help them to see the individual in front of them and not stereotype the community in their work.

At the moment I’m doing a full-time Level 5 QQI Business Studies course, and I also facilitate an education group of local women from the community. I really enjoy it - it’s a mixture between youth work and tutoring. In the future I’d like to work in adult education and do a degree in this area or education studies.

I know I want better for me, better for my family, and for other people

If you want to go back and study, don’t be afraid. Don’t put it off and allow yourself to keep making excuses, just do it now. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Worry about tomorrow when it comes. Education has given me a lot, I know I want better for me, better for my family, and for other people. There is more to life than old Traveller traditions and when you get a taste for it, you’ll want more. It’s good to mix and to meet new people. You will always be you and be a Traveller no matter where you go or what you do. Education or a job won’t change your identity, it will help you to find out who you are and what you’re capable of.

We hope that sharing Donna's positive experience of FET will encourage others to explore their own learning options.

For more information on your education and training options visit www.onestepup.ie or contact AONTAS on our Freephone Helpline on 1800 303 669. 

 


If you have an inspiring learner story that you would like to share you can contact Leah Dowdall, Learner Advocacy Officer by email: ldowdall@aontas.com, call 01 406 8220 or you can fill out our short learner story survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LearnerStory.